Wilde side

Kim Wilde answers your gardening questions.

I have several mature skimmias in the garden. When is the best time to prune them?
I was recently admiring Mr and Mrs Skimmia in my parents-in-law’s garden, the glossy red berries still decorating the female plant, the male with profuse buds ready to deliver scented flowers in spring. Usually, these evergreen bushes need no attention but can be pruned, if necessary, around now. Remove old pieces to the base, and reduce the tops to keep the shrub presentable, while letting in light to encourage new growth. Prune judiciously over time: hacking back all at once can shock shrubs to death.

I recklessly said I would grow the flowers for my daughter’s wedding on September 20. Can you recommend flowers I can plant? The colour theme is dark red and cream.
First, have a contingency plan. Growing some rather than all might be more realistic (what a lovely project, though). Alstromeria tubers can be planted in a sunny, sheltered position in early spring to flower from mid-summer to the first frosts. ‘Ilona’ and ‘Sacha’ are red, and ‘Virginia’ and ‘Diamond’ cream. Dianthus barbatus (sweet william) seed is available in mixtures that flower the same year as sown: reds include ‘Bullseye’ and ‘Cerise Rosella’; ‘West Crystal’ is cream. Freesias grow from corms planted mid-spring in a sunny spot, and will need support. ‘Argentina’ is cream and ‘Rapid Red’, well, red. Nerine bulbs can be planted this spring with their tips just below the soil surface. Although usually pink, creamy white ones are available. Dahlias, too, provide late colour from tubers planted in spring: ‘Hillcrest Albino’ is cream; ‘Hillcrest Royal’ is red. Good luck.

We have two large Ficus benjamina in pots. They live outdoors in summer, but after moving them inside for winter, they started shedding leaves. Can you suggest a remedy?
Although evergreen, weeping figs shed older leaves from the inside of the plant at the end of winter. Leaf fall and yellowing can be caused by a sudden change in temperature. Dry air can cause leaf drop (raise humidity by placing the pot on a wide saucer filled with moist pebbles) as well as dryness at the roots and over-watering in winter. More leaves fall from the side of the plant receiving less light. Make sure it has a few hours of direct light every day, turning the pot occasionally.